Saturday, June 26, 2010

Modern Japanese Horror Film, "Shikoku" (1999)

So, here in the Northern Hemisphere, it's summer now.  I can tell, because I have no AC and I occasionally just slump over like a wilted plant every once in a while when I forget to turn on all eight of my oscillating fans.  It's nearly unbearable.  What makes it OK, however, is this, a horror movie review for the summertime!

In Japan, summer is the time for horror movie releases.  Here in America, it seems to be all about Halloween, because people want to go get scared then.  We Japanese prefer to get frightened in summer.  One would think crowding around a bunch of people in a theatre to stare ahead at a screen for a few hours might leave you packed in like sardines, what with all the body heat generated by everybody, but movie theatres are notorious for being ice-cold when you visit them, right?  On the contrary, we flock to the summer horror releases because it's thought that becoming afraid at the movies will send chills up your spine, and chills naturally cool the body.  Regardless, summer has been thought of  as horror movie season in Japan for over half a century, and telling scary stories in summer time has been going on for over a thousand years.

But you know me, what do I get out of reviewing horror movies?  I know if I desecrate a shrine I'm cursed until my inevitable horrific death, I know that if I fall in love with a woman who smiles a little too wide and stares at me hatefully when I turn my back that I'm cursed until my inevitable horrific death, and I know that if I watch a terrible movie and take it lightly, I'll be cursed into my inevitable horrific death.  But that won't stop me from trying!  My point is, I get it, horror movies, and you're popular enough that everybody has reviewed you by now, so I can't just be like everybody else and go "I wasn't really scared at this part but I find the nuances of Megan Fox's performance in Jennifer's Body just absolutely delightful".  That's not me.

So I've selected this trashy, stupid, unintentionally comedic, low-budget, not-even-scary-to-easily-frightened-children movies to review.  Sure it was meant to be scary, but somewhere along the way (often at every stop along the way) the ball was dropped, destroyed, and forgotten entirely.  They're frightening, but not "Sadako coming through your screen in order to enact the Ju-On curse and drive insane that super hot girl from Audition who will torture you until you're nothing more than a pile of mangled body parts floating around in Dark Water" scary.  No, this is scary for much different, much more hilarious reasons.  Reasons such as:

Who in the hell thought this was a good idea and wanted to be attached to this project?
Why in the world would that ever happen?
Why didn't the editor attempt to fix that?  At all?
Did they seriously think that this would scare anybody?

Today's movie is a traditional Japanese horror film.  Traditional in the manner of, "churned out at little to no expense in a thinly-veiled attempt to cash in on the earlier success of Ring".  However, you can also take it as that other meaning of traditional, a story based on a horrific and "possibly real and factual" curse from Shinto rituals that have gone horribly awry, in the manner of many popular folktales, video games and novels from Japan's storied and frightening past.  But then churned out at little to no expense in a thinly-veiled attempt to cash in on the earlier success of Ring.

Of course, I didn't know this at the time.  In fact, I didn't know anything, because I didn't buy it.  Let me take you back to a simpler time, a time before Netflix, a time before One Missed Call and The Grudge both had five sequels and prequels that I wasn't even vaguely aware of, a time when there was still a movie rental store near my house by the name of Hollywood Video.  I would go there often to rent something or other, since the game store was conveniently attached to it, and my friends and I could get cheap-o horrible made-for-TV-movies and junk to watch without having to be stuck with the stigma of actually purchasing them.  Also, they had the best brand of microwave popcorn.  I miss it.

But I'm getting off track.  My point is that I and sometimes my friends and or mother would all come in to get a quick rental.  They had a huge selection, and I cannot recall them ever being "out" of something I wanted to rent.  So eventually Blockbuster monopolized everything and Hollywood Video had to close.  They had shipped back all of the films that they could, but those that remained were being given away at prices slashed more than the wrists of a Twilight fan.  I immediately began scanning the shelves for some DVD I might have sort of enjoyed that I could now purchase for two dollars, and my mother milled the aisles in search of some old movie she'd rented once in hopes they still had it to save on those pesky jacked-up import fees.  It turns out that they'd had to send this movie back, but what they did still have was one movie she had commented on Every.  Single.  Time. she had ever visited the video store.  That movie?


It looks scary, right?  That sort of imagery is created to strike at the very core of your being and warn you that here be pretty girls in pretty kimono following ugly tradition and wreaking havoc on your life, your village, and your eternity.  It looks like all of those other scary things that keep you awake at night.  It just seemed to be of a better class than most of those other "JHorror" DVDs who couldn't even afford a slipcover in colour.  Also, my mother had managed to locate the presence of some paper decorations used exclusively in Shinto, which must mean that this film had a better understanding of what we would find frightening, and was certainly worth the five dollars they were asking for in exchange.

It wasn't.

OK, it was, but not for the high and well-intentioned hopes she had placed upon it.

I remember having a passing thought that perhaps if this movie was so scary and associated with Shinto like the many other forms of media she collected and obsessed over and perhaps should have mentioned at one point, why hadn't she heard of it?  Why hadn't anyone heard of it?  (This will become a recurring pattern in my selection of these "horror" films.)  But the level of excitement on her face and the whiteness of her knuckles as she gripped the case and held it protectively to her chest sent the thought fleeing straight out of my mind as quickly as it had come.  She was buying me a lot of stuff, who was I to judge?

Anyway, I'm going to judge it now.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Yōkai Featured in Kagrra,'s 10th Anniversary Tour, ~Hyakkiyakou~

So it's been over a year since my last ~OFFICIAL~ Kagrra, update, but the themes of many of my recent entries basically makes up for it.  I'd been planning to do something along the lines of this entry since before I reviewed Yoshitoshi's art in Kotodama way back when, but then new circumstances arose and beat me into submission, culminating in this.  But more on that later.

Kagrra,'s new single, the extremely long-winded and traditional "Tsuki ni Murakumo Hana ni Ame" (with bonus "silent" kanji!) is due out the 16th.  The single itself is a much quicker pace than their last single, with a light beat befitting of its summer release.  The B-side I've heard on the main version is startlingly similar to old-school, "Matsuri"-era Kagrra,, as is the PV for "Tsuki ni Murakumo Hana ni Ame" itself, which bears resemblance to their most Visual of PVs, "Yume Izuru Chi", and one of their more popular photoshoots, as Isshi goes and gets his xxxHoLic on in the video with a kiseru, calligraphy, and onmyoji markings on his hands.  Kagrra, really went all-out with the costumes for this one, with a very modern style mixed in with even more vibrant traditional couture.  It's really refreshing for a Visual band to become more Visual, or consistently remain as flamboyantly earnest as they have been since they began, and the PV has many cool elements that you really have to see, rather than just me describing them.  Keeping consistent on this theme, the single to be released after this one has also been announced, and it promises to be just as confusing and abusive to me when it comes to the characters used for the title and, most likely, the lyrics as well.  Obsolete character count so far:  many.  Maybe I'll do an entry on it when it comes out, we'll see.  But anyway, this release seems like it's going to be a great one, so I highly recommend that you check it out and, if possible, please support the band by purchasing it!

But enough shameless promotion.  Let's delve into another new thing Kagrra, is pursuing, and get a bit more insight on the band, the members, and traditional (obscure) old cultural facts about Japan.